Tango's Embrace: Inside and Out
Much of the mystery and magic of tango surely lies within its fabled
embrace "el abrazo"
a distinctive feature that helps set tango apart from other
forms of social dance.
To an observer watching tango unfold from the outside, it may look
like the main action is taking place elsewhere in the legs,
hips and feet of the dancers. But on the inside, the partners experience
all this movement as the result of something else a touch that
allows two partners to blend their imaginations and energies to create
a third, more elusive entity: The Couple.
Indeed, various aspects of our tango embrace can become so moving
that its qualities of intimacy, trust and sensuality can rise to dominate
our experience of the dance itself. Many experienced tangueros
are fond of saying that, for them, the high point of any tango is
contained and revealed in that very first moment of contact
as we reach out to embrace our partners and, in many important
ways, all that follows afterward is just delicious anti-climax.
The Depth of an Embrace Close, Open, and otherwise
Within the larger idea of the embrace, tango offers us many
different ways to come together, connect and communicate with our
partners as we improvise on the dance floor.
One of the most common methods to begin organizing and describing
these many options is to refer to the amount of space that the couple
creates and allows between their two bodies what we call open
embrace implies more of this space, close embrace suggests
less and in any given moment, song or evening, our dancing
may trend in either direction, or flow between these two imaginary
poles in what we might call an "elastic" or dynamic
Some of these possibilities have roots in a particular sensibility,
geography or time period; others catch the nuances of a certain type
of music, a well-known orchestra, a favored venue. Many reflect the
choices and artistry of influential dancers, and a few echo with the
darker currents of bigotry and class bias.
As contemporary dancers, we have the good fortune of being able to
access and draw on all this history and depth of experience as we
explore, create and express our own Tango together.
Language of the Embrace and the Notion of "Style"
Of course, with all the options and potential variety in something
so fundamental, the possibilities inherent in the embrace can often
seem confusing, daunting, even overwhelming and tango is full
of lively, ongoing discussions about how best to characterize and
describe all the many factors involved, and how to better understand
and apply the intricate ways they influence our larger experience
of the dance.
In an effort to make sense of it all, some suggest we adopt the notion
of "style" neat verbal containers aimed at
capturing and conveying an elusive (and often shifting) set of presumably
In practice, however, our efforts to define and express tango with
ready labels and simplistic language can often seem less than adequate
For closer embrace alone, tango dancers are likely to encounter
a whole range of terms apilado, confitería, club,
cafe, milonguero, estilo del centro yet the late Pedro
"Tete" Rusconi, an influential dancer whose enthusiasm
for close embrace helped spread and popularize it throughout the 1990s
and beyond, preferred the more universal and inclusive term "tango
de salon" when referring to his own dancing.
Fortunately for us, not only did Sharna Fabiano study directly
with Tete and other masters in Buenos Aires, her own dancing transcends
the narrower limits of any one "style" indeed, Sharna's
approach points the way toward how we each might best embody and integrate
tango's many currents into an experience that is uniquely our own.
For more about the historical origins and influences on tango's
embrace and the many terms that dancers use to track various
"styles" of the dance see these thoughts
Denniston, and Daniel
For more about Tete Rusconi, see this documentary
about him on youtube.